The enormous contributions made by women to every facet of society need to acknowledged and celebrated. From equal pay, to political leadership, inclusion in history, corporate governance and participation in S.T.E.M. activities, women continue to get the short end of the stick. There are countless efforts to to make progress in the struggle for gender equity
The media has portrayed Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, as the model of modern feminism and propelled her book, “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” to the top of the bestseller lists. A former colleague takes a very different position in this extremely thoughtful review from Dissent Magazine. Feminism’s Tipping Point: Who Wins from Leaning In?
There are numerous well-intentioned attempts to “get girls into S.T.E.M.” Yet, there is too little action to be found beyond conference presentations or blog posts on the topic. One place we might start in increasing “women in technology” is by honoring more true pioneers.
I would like to nominate my friend and colleague, Dr. Cynthia Solomon for any Women in Technology awards that exist or could be created to recognize her remarkable contributions to the world of technology and education.
In the early 1960s, Cynthia Solomon graduated from Radcliffe with a history degree. She was extremely interested in computer programming, but that was not something women did back then. A friend of Cynthia’s helped her land a job as a secretary to MIT professor and artificial intelligence pioneer, Marvin Minsky. During that job, Cynthia taught herself to program in LISP. In 1968, Cynthia, along with Seymour Papert, Wally Feurzig and others, invented the Logo programming language for children.
If Seymour Papert is the Father of Educational Computing, then Cynthia Soiomon is the Mother of Educational Computing! Not only did Cynthia help create the first programming language for children, but she developed many of the pedagogical approaches and activities we still use to teach children to use computers. Forty five years later, Logo is still in use by millions of children around the world in the form of Scratch, MicroWorlds, Snap! and other dialects. The Twenty Things to Do with a Computer paper written by Solomon and Papert in 1970 or ’71 remains provocative today and lays the foundation for the maker movement sweeping the globe.
The school computer should have a large number of output ports to allow the computer to switch lights on and off, start tape recorders, actuate slide projectors and start and stop all manner of little machines. There should also be input ports to allow signals to be sent to the computer.
In our image of a school computation laboratory, an important role is played by numerous “controller ports” which allow any student to plug any device into the computer… The laboratory will have a supply of motors, solenoids, relays, sense devices of various kids, etc. Using them, the students will be able to invent and build an endless variety of cybernetic systems. (Papert & Solomon, 1971)
In the same paper, Solomon and Papert made a plea for 1:1 computing nearly twenty years before the first school in the world provided a personal computer for every student.
…Only inertia and prejudice, not economics or lack of good educational ideas stand in the way of providing every child in the world with the kinds of experience of which we have tried to give you some glimpses. If every child were to be given access to a computer, computers would be cheap enough for every child to be given access to a computer.
Cynthia Solomon was involved in many of the foundational research studies of computers in education in the 1960s and 70s. She then went on to be one of the founders of Logo Computer Systems, Inc. an educational software company still in existence after 30+ years and where she was involved in creating Apple Logo. Cynthia then went on to become Director of the Atari Cambridge Research Laboratory from 1982-84. In 1095, Cynthia, Margaret Minsky and Brian Harvey published LogoWorks: Challenging Programs in Logo. That book demonstrated the sorts of sophisticated computer science projects kids could engage in. It remains the gold standard in many ways.
Cynthia Solomon’s doctoral thesis became the seminal book on computers in education, Computer Environments for Children: A Reflection on Theories of Learning and Education. That book remains required reading today. Cynthia worked in schools throughout the 1990s and co-authored Designing Multimedia Environments for Children with Allison Druin. Most recently, Dr. Solomon worked with the One Laptop Per Child Foundation.
Since day one, Dr. Solomon has been an indispensable member of the Constructing Modern Knowledge faculty. Learn with her this July 9-12, 2013 at the 6th Annual Constructing Modern Knowledge institute.
Please take the time to consider the remarkable historical artifacts (videos, photos, papers and projects) on Dr. Solomon’s web site. She is a remarkable woman who has made substantial contributions to the use of computers in education and is a true pioneer in the high-tech industry. Cynthia Solomon deserves much wider recognition and our thanks!